Presti: 'Expectations Haven't Changed At All'

Thunder Executive Vice President/General Manager Sam Presti addressed the media on Friday about the Thunder's busy summer and the upcoming season. Here's a complete transcript of his media availability.

OPENING REMARKS
“Obviously, this is an exciting time for us as an organization. We have a group of people who are excited and motivated to get started and have worked hard this summer to try to take another step in the program here in Oklahoma City. The focus for the organization remains the same for us: we’re focused on trying to move the needle forward for the Thunder, continue to work our way to a point of sustained success as an elite franchise in the NBA and the Western Conference. In terms of our goals and things of that nature coming into the season, as I said earlier, they’re the same as the goals we had the last few years in Oklahoma City. We want to continue to build ourselves as a defensive team and to build our defensive identity. We want to continue to be a team that continues to compete night in and night out and plays hard and plays for each other. We want to continue to be a team and focus on being a team that has an attention to detail on both ends of the floor at a high level. And as always we want to continue to give back to the community and all the people that have supported us since our time here by way of our endeavors within the community and with our corporate partners and season ticket holders.

“Each year obviously has a different dynamic. No year is the same. In our case we’re very fortunate to be coming into this season having taken what we feel like was a positive step last year and looking at it we had a lot of things go our way last year. I think everybody can see that. We also enjoyed real big strides developmentally with some of our guys and with all of that said we were still the eighth seed in the Western Conference. So I think that lends itself to the overall understanding and humility of the group that we still have a long way to go given that a lot of things fell in line for us last year. We’ve said before that we’re still a team that has a lot of growth. We have a lot of room to grow and we’re certainly not a finished product by any means. But we feel good in the process and where we are right now in the process and what we’re trying to accomplish. But we’re going to have to stay focused as we keep working on the things that we can control, the things that are important to us as a basketball team that we’ve identified as being important to winning basketball games.

“In terms of the summer, I think we’ve had a positive summer. Nenad, Kevin, Russell had experiences with the national teams they played for. Hopefully we’ll gain some benefit from their individual experiences and turn those into collective improvement for the team and organization. Our coaches, again, I think have done a fine job with our summer program and have seen some strides with some of our players and we’re excited about that. And I just want to emphasize our coaching staff does a great job with our guys and they really are committed and understand how important the development of our entire roster is for what it is we’re trying to do, which is obviously build a team that can have lasting success. I feel very fortunate to work with a coaching staff like the one we have, which is truly committed to the organizational vision and understand that. I think we really have to credit our coaches and players with the positive steps we’ve taken as an organization in our development.

“Again before I take questions, just in sum, our identity and our approach, that’s going to be consistent. That’s just kind of how we feel is best for us to continue to grow as an organization. But we’re really excited about starting. We’re really excited about what the season holds. We know there’ll be plenty of ups and downs – that’s part of an 82-game season – and I think we’ll continue to learn and grow from how we manage both the adversities that we face and also the successes we’re fortunate enough to earn along the way.”

Have your expectations changed?
“Really, they haven’t changed at all. As I said earlier, expectations for us are controlling the things we can control, coming in each day with a focus and a work ethic that are going to help us continue to grow. For us, we understand and respect there’s no short cut and there’s no silver bullet. It’s just going to be our ability to push forward and continue to stick together and understand that part of our growth as a team and an organization is not always going to be a smooth ride. So as we hit those struggles or patches, it’s not just getting through the patches but also getting better from going through that. I think that having won 23 games the season before last and having a lot of those guys that went through that season on our roster, I think they have a great respect for how difficult it is to win in this league. They have a great respect for how they’ve got to come in here every day and focus on us, let alone anything outside of this building.”

Sam, you talked briefly about what the guys accomplished in the World Championship. Can you talk specifically what kind of improvement you saw in their game?
“Well I think there’s certainly a benefit for those guys to play in different circumstances. But at the core of all of those national teams, the commitment stays the same. It’s a total team commitment. Although there’s a difference in some of the rules and difference in environments, I think just the opportunity to play and continue to grow in those different environments but still have the sole focus of being on the collective output of the unit I think is great experience for the summer. The other thing with those guys is anytime you’re playing in an event like the World Championship, just the amount of endurance mentally that it takes to go into that process, it’s a challenge and I think that will hopefully benefit them. I think Kevin and Russell and Nenad had to make significant commitments and really see that through to the point where those teams played deep into that tournament.”

How narrow is your focus? Do you focus in on the Northwest?
“Really, honestly, we can’t control what’s going on with the other teams in the Northwest. For us, it’s always been about preparing and playing as a team and focusing on the things we feel are important. Everyone’s got to play 82 games, got to play the same schedule, same home, same away. And then at the end of the year, I think for us you always try to look back at what the work resulted in as opposed to starting out focusing on the results themselves.”

Are you surprised just how flattering people have been toward your team since the Lakers series?
“Well I think it’s always nice to have people say positive things about your team and it’s humbling. By the same token, I don’t think any of our guys or anyone in our building expects those things are going to translate into production on the court. It’s really up to us to stay focused and disciplined to our core principles and roll our sleeves up every day and go to work. We’re not going to make progress by talking about it. We’re not going to make process because we look externally. It’s going to have to happen internally and it’s not going to be a smooth road all the time. But that’s part of the process that we’re in.”

As you look around the league do you consider this team a top-five team?
“I don’t really look at it like, who’s a top five or a top three team. I like where we are. I like that we have a group of guys that have put in more time over the summer. I like the fact that we are bringing back a group of guys that have some more experience, some more continuity but we’re going to have to do the work on the floor and I think we’re going to continue to learn about what kind of team we have through how we manage adversities and also how we manage some success that we have. So at the end of the year I think we’ll have the answers to some of those questions.”

Sam, you were pretty rock solid in the nine-man rotation last season and you’ve added some substantial depth that’s available to Scott now. Does that make his job tougher or easier in your mind?
“Well I think for him, obviously he’s always going to want to have as many options as he can. I think that again we certainly like the group that we have but he’s going to have to make the decision on who he feels is going to help us win on a nightly basis, how he wants to continue to develop the roster so that we’re playing our best basketball as the season progresses. I think we have a tremendous amount of confidence in him in what it is how he approaches his job and also how he feels about the organization and what we’re trying to accomplish. I think he’d like to have as many options as possible but as you know we can’t play everybody. We’re going to have to have people understand and accept roles and that’s another part of developing an elite franchise. But I’m confident in that.”

Do you feel like you’re on the right track? You hear people like David Kahn talk about the Presti Rebuilding Approach?
“Again, it’s certainly not my approach. It’s the organization. We’ve had a tremendous amount of support from our ownership group and certainly our players and our organization are the ones who deserve the credit. They have continually stayed disciplined to the things we’ve laid out that’s important to growing. We’ve certainly had some rough patches also. That’s also a big part of us staying the course and when we’ve had some success it hasn’t been because we rolled the balls out one day and it happened. Scott and the players have really come in each day and focused on trying to get better and we’re going to have to continue to have that focus. That’s going to be really important for us if we want to improve.”

The answers you’re giving us now, is that something you have to pound into your guys’ heads every once in a while?
“Well, you know, I think if anything what we’re trying to establish is the fact that we’re going to try to do our work on the floor and one of the huge benefits for us is we have some guys who embody that. I think Kevin Durant is someone that understands results don’t come overnight. They come from putting in time. They may not come back to you that particular day. So Kevin understands that he doesn’t work hard at shoot around in the morning because he thinks it’s going to help him that night. I think it comes back to him later on in the season or perhaps the following season. All those little things stack up. I think Russell is similar in that approach. It’s not as much a messaging thing that we try to talk to the guys about than it is try to find the guys that embody that. I think Scotty does a tremendous job because that’s who he is as a person. He’s a consistent person. Not a lot of bells and whistles. And he’s a worker and that’s the reason we feel like he’s the coach of the team.”

Sam, there’s a lot of ways to develop over the summer. You’ve got physical development from a talent standpoint. But I’m curious from what you’ve learned in talking to the players, what have you gotten from them about their mental development and how they’re approaching the season as sort of a target now?
“Well, I think the fact that there’s been some struggle over the last few years, I think there’s a genuine humility in how fragile this is. You can’t take anything for granted in the NBA. You have to respect how difficult it is to win and you have to continue to stay focused on the things you can control because there’s so many things that are out of your control at the end of the day. So I think guys will benefit from their experiences. Some of them have been positive and some of them haven’t been. But like I said the point of the struggle is not necessarily to survive but it’s to improve.”

Do you feel at all that you’ll need a concerted effort to insulate them from external expectations as the season unfolds? Is that a concern at all for you?
“I think once the season starts I think it’s about basketball. As I said before our approach is the same. Nothing really changes for us. We approach this summer as we’ve approached the last few. We’ll approach this training camp as we’ve approached the last few, and that’s just focusing on moving forward, getting better and continuing to grow and obviously having an eye on building a team.”

With Kevin, to see him get the attention that he’s getting, is that somewhat gratifying to you and what you know about how he’s worked for all of this?
“Well we’re certainly proud of him because we’ve seen his development but we also understand that he’s still, as of today, 21 years old. He has a long way to go and there’s a lot of ways he can improve. But one of the things I think that’s made him who he is and will continue to do so is that he hasn’t focused on the results. He’s focused on doing the work, understanding that part of his development is embracing the challenges and sometimes they’re tough times. He’s had some of those. But as I said before, one of the things that’s more consistent than any part of his game is his approach to his work and I think it’s a huge benefit for him and a huge benefit for our organization.”

Sam there’s a lot of talk around the league about teams changing uniforms. Do you guys have any plans for alternate uniforms?
“I think that’ll happen in the future. There’s a period of time that you have to wait and I’m not clear 100 percent on the rules or the guidelines so I don’t want to give you the impression that I have it figured out. But it’s something that the organization will strongly look at as that opportunity becomes available to us.”

Sam, you spoke about the coaches this summer and all the work they’ve put in. Can you talk about the thought process behind that and why it’s so important?
“Well, again, as I said before we’re not a finished product. We have a long way to go so part of building and growing a sustainable franchise and roster is focusing on those opportunities to improve. Summer times are a great opportunity to do that. As I said we’re really fortunate to have a coaching staff that understands that we’re going to need the entire roster to grow and build organizational depth. That takes not just time during the season but also opportunities in the offseason as well and those guys are passionate about the organization and our thought process is just to try to use every opportunity to improve but to work smart also. Not just to work a lot but to work smart. And I think those guys do a good job of that.”

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